Albino Victim Evicted From Safe-House

Erick David Nampesya, BBC News, October 19, 2009

One year ago, Mariam Staford Bandaba, an albino woman living in Tanzania, was viciously attacked by a machete-wielding gang who tried to kill her and sell her remains for witchcraft.

She escaped with her life, but only just.

The attackers chopped off one of her hands–the other had to be amputated in hospital, where she spent weeks recovering from her horrific injuries.

Traumatised, Ms Staford Bandaba then took the brave step of identifying her attackers.

She was taken to a safe-house where she lived under government protection.

But the government recently decided she could no longer live there, leaving the 28-year-old fearing for her safety.

The administrative officer in the village where she was re-housed, Erasmus Rugarabamu, told the BBC Swahili service that the situation had improved and no albinos had been killed in her home village in the north-western Kagera region in the past year.

The decision by the authorities comes just a few weeks after a court sentenced three men to death for the murder of an albino boy.

Albino murders

Ms Staford Bandaba is one of thousands of people with albinism who live in fear in Tanzania.

Her harrowing tale has become commonplace in a country where 53 albinos are believed to have been murdered in the past two years.

Albinos, who are pale because of a lack of pigment in their skin, have been routinely killed because witchdoctors say that potions made with their body parts will bring good fortune in love, life and business to those who use them.

The killings have also spread to neighbouring Burundi where at least 12 people have been murdered.

The victims were mutilated and their body parts are believed to have been sold in Tanzania to make potions.

One man was sentenced to death and eight others were jailed in Burundi earlier this year.

Ms Staford Bandaba’s alleged attackers have been caught in north-western Tanzania, the region where the vast majority of the murders have been carried out.

Tears

The story of her eviction caught the attention of a businessman who has agreed to let her and her mother live in a room in his house for a year.

But after that she has no idea what will happen to her.

Before moving out of the safe house, she told me that she broke down in tears when the district commissioner told her the news.

“I can’t imagine what will happen. What I did in front of him was just start crying.”

She is even more upset because it is not just her who had to leave.

Her father and four siblings who were taking care of her and feeding her were also evicted.

They have had no choice but to return to the village where she was so brutally attacked.

Her father, Staford Bandaba, admitted he was very anxious about reprisal attacks being carried out on his family.

“Those who are responsible, all their relatives are still living there in the village, and those released from prison, are still living where we were living. So how can we stay there?”

But Mr Rugarabamu defended the government’s decision.

“Some of the attackers were found not guilty, so we can’t keep them in prison, so they will be allowed to return to the village according to the law. But those found guilty are still in prison awaiting their fate.”

That is little comfort for Ms Staford Bandaba’s father.

Now that she no longer has government protection, “We are worried that they will finish her off.”

And he is not the only one who thinks that could happen.

Condemnation

“Albinos are still being hunted and we don’t yet know how to solve the problem,” one local resident says.

“We cannot understand this decision.”

“The government only seems to be doing half its duty. They started well and they should continue to help Mariam get a permanent house which will be safe,” another person tells me.

Albino children in a school for the blind in Tanzania

Tanzania’s president has introduced measures to protect albinos

President Jakaya Kikwete has said the albino murders have brought shame to Tanzania and his government has taken steps to identify and prosecute the perpetrators.

In March thousands of people took part in an exercise to identify those they suspected of being involved, by filling in forms anonymously.

The authorities have also issued a ban on all traditional healers, and several people have been arrested.

The government has now given Ms Staford Bandaba a plot of land to build a house away from her village.

But she says she has no money for the construction work, leaving her feeling abandoned at a time when she needs the help most.

“I was born an albino,” she says. “But my attackers have made me disabled. I am begging all Tanzanians to kindly keep on helping me, because my situation is now worse. I have no hands.”

Fortunately, a local businessman has heard her plea.

But in a year’s time, Ms Staford Bandaba will once again be faced with the prospect of having to return to the village where she was nearly killed.

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